by Lisa Lozano
Every Friday, we’re letting you know what is fresh and in season in a different part of the U.S. by spotlighting a unique regional farmers market.
Today, we’re talking to Chris Curtis, the Executive Director of The Neighborhood Farmers Markets in Seattle, Washington, about one of the most well-known farmers markets in the country, the University District Farmers Market.
On what makes the market special:
It’s the oldest in our network of markets and it’s also the largest. It has the largest number of farmers participating every week, and certainly some of the biggest variety of farm produce and farm products. It has a national reputation and is often singled out as one of the top ten farmers markets in the country, so we’re very proud of that. This time of year, we see about 5,000 shoppers per week.
On the hardiness of her sellers and shoppers:
It’s year-round, it’s every Saturday rain or shine, in every kind of weather.
On the effect of an early spring:
I’ve been organizing markets for 22 years, and this year has been the earliest, driest, sunniest spring that I can remember, so consequently we have more great, fresh food on the farm tables than we have had in the past. It’s a great year for farmers and a great year for our markets.
On the unique aspect of Washington state agriculture:
[Sellers] come in from all over Washington state. Some of them drive great distances, but most of them are farming in Puget Sound. Washington state is divided by a mountain range so the terrain and climate and soil in Puget Sound is quite different than what’s grown on the eastern side of the state. Most of our farmers are coming from the Puget Sound area but we still do get all the yummy tree fruit that comes from eastern Washington, you know, cherries and peaches and what we call “hot weather crops,” eggplant and peppers and things that grow in a warmer, drier climate.
On what’s in season right now:
We are seeing wonderful strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, marionberries, gooseberries. We really do have quite the compliment of berries, and Puget Sound is kind of known for wonderful, wonderful berries. And right now, they’re all either out on the farm tables or coming in within the next couple of weeks. Eastern Washington fruit is also really showing up on the farm tables and right now we’ve got many different varieties of cherries. We also are starting to see apricots and also the first peaches. And, again, it’s unheard of, we probably wouldn’t see peaches probably for another month or so, so everything is early, but everything’s really healthy and large, and good sugar. You need sun and warmth for things to get full sugar here in Washington state, and the flavor of the fruits that are coming in is really, really good.
On how to choose the best produce:
We really, really pride ourselves on bringing in the very best quality. That’s something that we do ourselves by doing farm visits and knowing the best farmers and the best products. Going to a farmers market will give you your absolute best opportunity to buy the best quality from the most farmers, so right there, you’re already kind of ahead of the game. It’s better than going to [a typical grocery store].
What I tell people to do is take a really good walk around the market, and then walk around again, and just make mental notes about the price, because of course, there will be some variation in the price. And your eye can spot quality: are they plump, and firm and don’t have blemishes? Are they looking as beautiful as they possibly can? And what’s really, really nice at the farmers market is that most farmers are sampling, so you can actually taste that cherry that you are about to buy.
For more information about the University District Farmers Market, click here.
Check out our most recent farmers market profiles: